The paths we are to follow in life are not always clearly laid out. Such is the case with Dr. Maria Martino of Lakeland Ob/Gyn, a Fellow member of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology and a Polk County Medical Association member. “There was not an enlightening moment in my life that made me decide to become a physician,“ she admits. “Instead, life led me to this path.”
Growing up in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, her first signs pointing her to the medical field—and the OB/Gyn discipline—were in her own home. “In my father I saw hard work, long hours, sacrifice, and a true calling towards medicine,” she explains. Dr. Martino also credits her mother who she describes “has been the basis of my life and has taught me by example the meaning of being a woman and a mother.”
The Start of a Commitment
The island of Puerto Rico is woven into Dr. Martino’s past and finds its way into her practice. Rio Piedras is the location of the University of Puerto Rico, which was the next step on Dr. Martino’s path. She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology, and then traveled a bit. She next attended New York University, graduating with a Master’s Degree in Health Studies. From there, she transferred to Virginia Tech to earn her Ph.D. in Family and Child Development.
She was later blessed with the opportunity to go to medical school, and as she started at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Medicine, she knew the next step. “Given my background, I never considered any other specialty. I always knew my calling was with women and their reproductive health.”
She graduated in the class of 2002 and returned state-side to Camden, New Jersey to complete her residency at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. After that, in 2006, she joined the United States Air Force and was stationed at the Elgin Air Force Base, located in the panhandle near Ft Walton Beach, another step on her path. Along the way she picked up many other influences and inspirations to her career. There was her mentor-in-residency, Michelle Salvatore, who “became a friend as much as a colleague;” her own Ob-Gyn, Dr. Cecile Marquez, who she says, “Taught me about the rewards of being an Ob-Gyn and warned me about the lifestyle along with it;” and her husband, Juan G. Casasnovas. “He has always supported my career,” she continues, “being understanding and instrumental in allowing me to have peace of mind while I work knowing that my children—Isabel and Guillermo—are loved and well taken care of.”
After finishing active duty in 2010, it was time to decide the next step. “My husband Juan and I decided to remain in Florida but to relocate to Central Florida where we would be able to travel home easily,” she says.
While interviewing for positions, Dr. Martino witnessed the tight-knit staff and spa-like atmosphere of Lakeland OB/Gyn. “When I interviewed at Lakeland Ob-Gyn, I felt at home,” she explains. “I had interviewed in other cities and after interviewing at Lakeland OB/Gyn, I wanted to work there. I was honored to be offered a position and gladly accepted.”
After three years with Lakeland OB/Gyn, Dr. Martino is still enamored with pregnancy wellness check-ups, delivering babies in the wee hours at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, and providing additional reproductive health services to women. She finds inspiration in the daily routine of having “the privilege and opportunity to make a difference in a woman’s life either by promoting routine preventive care, improving quality of life, or by assisting in alleviating life-limiting conditions.”
She admits the hours are long and busy, but asserts, “I am blessed and privileged to work with a great staff and a very special nurse, Miriam, who keeps me on track and sane. I can always trust her to treat my patients with the utmost care and respect.” Going back to her roots in Puerto Rico, Dr. Martino maintains that care and respect are high on her list. She elaborates, “Being fluent in Spanish can make the difference between ‘seeing’ a patient at the office and ‘caring’ for the patient at the office. I am proud of my Hispanic background, and grateful that it can be of assistance to women who feel more comfortable speaking their native language.”
All paths continue on, and Dr. Martino is still on hers. “My plan for the future is to continue to build on our practice, and provide women of all ages with care for their reproductive and gynecological health. I look forward to be an instrument in promoting women’s healthy development, assertiveness, and ownership of reproductive/sexual health.”
story by ERIKA ALDRICH
photo by PEZZIMENTI